SPARTA, Ky. (AP) — NASCAR officials don't expect the introduction of electronic fuel injection to revolutionize the series.
Then again, that's not the point. After decades using carburetors — long since abandoned by automakers for mass produced vehicles — the move to fuel injection in 2012 allows the series to get in step with the times.
"It's a huge step for our sport to make the cars relevant with what's on the street," driver Kevin Harvick said. "It's huge for the manufacturers to have that."
All four of the Sprint Cup car manufacturers — Toyota Motor Corp., Chevrolet, Ford Motor Co. and Dodge — underwent extensive on-track testing Thursday at Kentucky Speedway. While there were some minor issues, engineers and drivers believe the technology should be well under control when it debuts at Daytona next February.
"Everything ran pretty smooth and the motor is really smooth," said Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who test-drove Ford's fuel injection car on Thursday. "We wanted to run some laps out there and make sure things were running good. So far so good on that. It has got some speed also."
Stenhouse averaged 176.171 mph during the second test session practice on Thursday, good enough for 16th out of the 52 cars that went out on the track.
The fuel injection delivers an even flow of gas to the engine, something that carburetors couldn't always do. The sensors in the engine will regulate the fuel intake and make sure it is dispersed properly and also allow officials to better police how teams power their engines.
The system, developed by McLaren Electronic Systems and Freescale Semiconductor, can be costly. Teams are expected to pay about $26,000 per car, though NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton called it a necessary step for the series and that all teams are on board.
"Anytime you have a rule change, there's upfront costs," he said. "It's something we need to do. We need to do it for our sport, for our competition."
Penske Racing director of competition Travis Geisler estimates the team will purchase about a dozen units to get prepared for 2012.
"It's not a cheap endeavor," he said, noting teams will also have to make personnel adjustments to deal with the new technology.
The new system will also provide better fuel mileage for cars, a significant development for a sport where sometimes the winner isn't the fastest car but the one that manages to squeeze an extra drop or two of fuel to get to the finish. And while it is designed to further level the playing field, engineers believe there is enough wiggle room to find an edge.
"We are actually quite happy with the system because it has considerable room for invention, for science," said Andrew Randolph, who is working on the project for Earnhardt Childress Racing. "Certainly there is room for people to do it better than other people. We would like to think that whenever we have an opportunity to excel, then that is what we will do."
Dodge is made by Chrysler Group LLC; Chevrolet is made by General Motors Co.